What is agile employee engagement - and how does it improve CX?

Engaged employees
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By taking time to investigate agile engagement programmes, organisations can better understand the role their employees play in customer success. So what do they involve?

Employee engagement is nothing new. Most mid-sized and large organisations have mature employee measurement processes in place, often covering multiple steps along the employee journey. So why are we still talking about the need to improve employee feedback processes? 

The discussion is being fuelled in two ways: by organisations who have a deeper understanding of the link between business success, customer experience and employee engagement, driving their interest in harnessing real-time, ongoing employee insight rather than just moments-in-time snapshots; and by employees themselves, who increasingly expect to have a voice in their organisation and share opinions about their experiences in a way that suits them.

An annual engagement survey is no longer enough to satisfy both parties. To outperform their rivals, businesses need to foster an environment in which employee feedback is continuous, two-way, and – critically – action-led.

Enter the concept of 'agile employee experience': an approach built on the already proven concept of agile customer experience (CX) measurement. In exactly the same way as agile CX works, agile employee experience programmes allow you to learn more from and about your employees through continuous engagement. In essence, agile engagement programmes move beyond continuous listening because they are proactive and empower employees to start conversations.

Why agile?

Employee engagement strategies, as the name suggests, focus more on whether employees are engaged (have emotional ties to the job) than whether they are happy (generally positive and with a sense of well-bring). This is a much more relevant measure since the underlying factor of most employee dissatisfaction or disengagement is a sense of not being listened to – and this is where engagement programmes can make all the difference.

Agile engagement strategies take this one step further, addressing every aspect of an organisation, inside and out, and doing so on a continuous basis. Companies that really want to engage their teams need to develop a truly agile approach to listening, and implement programmes that combine proactive, solicited surveys at key stages of the employee lifecycle with unsolicited, reactive approaches such as online comment boxes and social media sources.

Being able to track an individual employee’s feedback on a continuous basis adds tremendous value to the pursuit of predictive, smart employee engagement data. It also allows organisations to make the entire employee experience better as they learn from and act upon that data.

Agile employee engagement relies as much on a shift on cultural mindset as it does on tools and technologies that can underpin continuous listening and analysis.

This continuous approach is critical in delivering a better understanding of the employee’s impact on a business at every stage: employees, particularly those on the front line of a business such as in a call centre, have the most knowledge about the customers they speak to every day. They also have clear views on how they can make their customers’ experience better. Indeed, their understanding is often far greater than that of the C-suite, who are usually several steps removed from direct customer interaction.

It’s this involvement in customer experience – and by association business success – that underpins agile employee engagement. Employees who feel they could make a difference but don’t believe they have the opportunity to are never going to be particularly engaged, and this represents a real missed opportunity for many organisations.

Supporting new organisational models

As well as capturing more relevant, timely feedback, agile employee engagement strategies fit much better with the increasing move towards flat organisational structures. Team-centric models, in which people come together and then disband as initiatives come and go, are ideally supported with an agile approach to listening, providing the structure and framework necessary to capture and act upon the continually changing dynamics of a group or the business as a whole.

An agile engagement approach empowers people across a business to easily seek feedback in ways that are meaningful to their work area, but within a clearly-defined governance framework that ensures high-quality data and insights. It’s an ideal approach for businesses who want to build a culture that thrives on, and drives success from, feedback.

How to roll out agile employee engagement

Agile employee engagement relies as much on a shift on cultural mindset as it does on tools and technologies that can underpin continuous listening and analysis (and that’s a subject for another day). That mindset relies on a few critical actions:

  • Make the programme proactive: Encourage and ask for ideas, using short surveys to start the ball rolling.
  • Build trust: Allow employees to give feedback anonymously, at least at first, so people feel safe and learn to trust the process.
  • Drive innovation and confidence: Encourage people to rock the boat and make it clear that all ideas are good ideas, even if not all feedback is ‘good news’.
  • Show you are actively listening: Share feedback, and tell employees what you’ve heard from other sources, so they can see that it is worth sharing ideas.
  • Reward employees for their effort: It’s important that the process shows a clear result. Often, building in reward and recognition processes drives much better and longer-term participation.

Following these steps is the best way to create an environment in which employees have easy access to sharing continuous feedback that informs business change.

That is, of course, if these steps lead to action. Taking action not only allows for immediate and long-term business improvements, but also creates a virtuous circle whereby employees are more willing to contribute their views as they see them being utilised to drive positive change.  For business leaders, this delivers results that are far more useful than the numbers and statistics delivered by standard, annual employee surveys.

Act on knowledge and insight

Indeed, action is a word that should be used a stark reminder of the pitfalls that even the most well-designed, well-implemented programmes can have if consideration is not paid to ‘what happens next’.

Even for those who embed action planning into their process, a common complaint amongst frontline managers is that the data is not actionable or too outdated, or that the outcomes are not within their span of control to change. This can create frustration among employees, causing them to lose interest, become disengaged, and not prioritise the customer in their day-to-day roles.

Companies are quickly learning that agile listening is all very well but it is worthless if it doesn’t lead to improvement or change. Agile programmes need to be business focused, gathering meaningful, real-time data that is driven by the needs of leaders, managers and employees alike. Only then will they deliver insight worth acting upon – demonstrating a clear and relevant impact on business outcomes.

So, where do we go from here? We know it’s no longer an option to conduct an annual survey and tick that as a job done for the year. Now, the concept of making information and insight actionable must sit at the top of an organisation’s priority list – particularly as more and more data is being gathered from multiple, very different, sources.

By taking time to investigate the techniques needed to create an agile engagement programme, organisations will discover that there are great opportunities to better understand the role their employees play in corporate success. This does take time, effort and often a fundamental change in corporate behaviour, but it will be a critical move in outpacing the competition, not to mention securing the best employees and the most satisfied, loyal and profitable customers.

About EJ Sieracki

EJ Sieracki

E.J. Sieracki is responsible for the team that designs and delivers all Voice of the Employee (VoE) programs across Confirmit. In this role, he oversees the application of current VoE best practices, consulting capabilities, and management of the implementation teams for all Voice of the Employee engagements globally.

He has 16 years of experience in employee feedback, covering employment engagement, leadership, and personal development. Prior to his role at Confirmit, E.J. held roles at Human Synergistics and Towers Watson.

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